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201522Jul21:59

Will a vac­cine save Tas­man­ian dev­ils from extinction?

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 22 July 2015 | mod­i­fied 22 July 2015
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Tasmanian devilNew research, led by Uni­ver­sity of Southamp­ton bio­log­i­cal sci­en­tist Dr Han­nah Sid­dle, is aim­ing to develop an effec­tive vac­cine against an infec­tious can­cer that is erad­i­cat­ing the Tas­man­ian devil, the world’s largest remain­ing mar­su­pial carnivore.

Tasmanian devil dftdDevil Facial Tumour Dis­ease (DFTD) is a rare con­ta­gious facial tumour, which emerged from a neural (Schwann) cell in a sin­gle Tas­man­ian devil more than 18 years ago. The tumour cells pass between indi­vid­u­als dur­ing bit­ing behav­iour, accord­ing a study pub­lished in Sep­tem­ber 2012, and tumours form pre­dom­i­nantly around the face and neck, grow rapidly and cause close to 100 per cent mor­tal­ity. What began with one indi­vid­ual has now spread rapidly through­out the pop­u­la­tion of dev­ils in Tas­ma­nia, killing almost all the ani­mals and threat­en­ing sur­vival of the species in the wild.

We have an oppor­tu­nity to develop an effec­tive vac­cine against a dis­ease that is rapidly destroy­ing a unique and impor­tant species. The Tas­man­ian devil is the top car­ni­vore in Tas­ma­nia and its loss would be a dis­as­trous out­come for the ecosystem.
Dr Han­nah Sid­dle, bio­log­i­cal sci­en­tist, Uni­ver­sity of Southampton »

Thanks to £183,759 fund­ing from the Lev­er­hulme Trust to the Uni­ver­sity, Dr Sid­dle will lead a three-​year research project to under­stand how the dis­ease moves between the ani­mals and then use this infor­ma­tion to design a vac­cine against the tumour. The research will also enhance under­stand­ing of how can­cers avoid the immune sys­tem, which could have impli­ca­tions for can­cer treat­ment in humans.

Dr Sid­dle says: “This con­ta­gious can­cer is very unusual in that the can­cer cells can move between ani­mals. We are look­ing for the pro­teins that make the tumour cells dif­fer­ent to the host dev­ils that they infect and then use these ‘tumour spe­cific’ pro­teins to design a vac­cine that will save the devil from extinction.”

We have an oppor­tu­nity to develop an effec­tive vac­cine against a dis­ease that is rapidly destroy­ing a unique and impor­tant species. The Tas­man­ian devil is the top car­ni­vore in Tas­ma­nia and its loss would be a dis­as­trous out­come for the ecosys­tem. It has proven impos­si­ble to pre­vent the spread of DFTD and only a suc­cess­ful vac­cine will allow cap­tive, immu­nised ani­mals to be released into the wild, even­tu­ally erad­i­cat­ing the disease.”

The cap­tive Tas­man­ian devil pop­u­la­tion that is regarded as an insur­ance pop­u­la­tion, is grow­ing and can be found in zoos and wildlife insti­tu­tions around Aus­tralia, even in Copen­hagen, Denmark.

The grant will finance fur­ther study of the dis­ease at mol­e­c­u­lar level as well. Dr Sid­dle will col­lab­o­rate with an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of experts from the Uni­ver­sity of Southamp­ton, Monash Uni­ver­sity in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia and from the Uni­ver­sity of Tas­ma­nia in Hobart, Australia.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Southamp­ton press release, 21.07.2015)


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